Children in Kilis, Turkey benefit from a new UMCOR-supported Child Friendly Space that serves children ages 5 to 12. The children will receive psychosocial care and education to help them deal with the anxieties of war.
By David Tereshchuk*
October 17, 2013—Amid all the turbulence of the Middle East, the continuing violence in Syria increasingly sends waves of displaced people from their homes. They seek shelter within their own country, but more and more so, in neighboring countries.
The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) is undertaking vital initiatives in support of Syria’s battered population. Among these is UMCOR’s work with implementing partner International Blue Crescent (IBC) to ease the plight of Syrian refugee children in Turkey.
In the two years of Syria’s vicious fighting, some 600,000 refugees have fled across that border, about three fourths of them being women and children. IBC is focusing its efforts on children in the refugee “city” of Kilis, technically a temporary reception center built mainly of steel shipping containers and located just three miles inside Turkey’s border with Syria.
Throughout the conflict, the harm inflicted on children’s education has been enormous—some 3,000 Syrian schools have been destroyed, and two million children have been robbed of their schooling—but, of course, every element of their upbringing has suffered too. The UMCOR/IBC efforts are designed to bring some remedy to that widespread damage.
Special measures are being taken in the challenging environment of Kilis to ensure that the worst impact of such violent upheaval in children’s lives gets adequately addressed. Their sleep patterns, for instance, are often terribly fractured, and their recurring screaming nightmares have been a sad accompaniment to camp life after dark.
UMCOR is supporting IBC’s work to create “child-friendly spaces” in Kilis, a holistic approach to meeting the children’s needs. A “child-friendly space” is, in essence, a combination of informal school, a source of emotional and psychological comfort, and a mechanism to help agencies monitor the physical and mental well-being of the children.
Along with classes and educational games, the children receive nutrition in the form of fresh fruit, milk and cookies; regular health scans, vaccinations, and treatment where needed; plus skilled help for them and their parents in dealing with the searing memories of trauma.
IBC Vice President Muzaffer Baca says, "The psychological problems of the children are huge and can sometimes go unattended amid the urgent provision of emergency relief.”
The children who benefit are mostly between the ages of 5 and 12. They often are brought into contact with other children of very different backgrounds, but the approach of staff and volunteers who run each space is to encourage them to make new friends.
Developing the children’s creative talents is important, too, of course. Much emphasis is placed on art, music, and drama—as well as on boosting the children’s self-confidence through games and other activities that are both collaborative and competitive.
The anxieties of war are a steady presence, which all the therapeutic efforts are addressing. When the children draw or paint, their self-expression is at first dominated by vivid pictures of bombs from aircraft, missiles, guns, and explosions of all kinds. With time, IBC staff and volunteers are noticing, these images begin to shift, and a more customary picture of childhood begins cautiously to reassert itself in their creative output.
“In these ‘child-friendly spaces’ they are all becoming friends, and we see the children are able to smile again,” says Baca.
Your gift to International Disaster Response, Advance #982450, will help families, including Syria’s refugees, who are uprooted by natural or human-made disasters.
*David Tereshchuk is a journalist and media critic who contributes regularly to www.umcor.org.